If you’re like me, dear reader, you are looking forward this weekend to the unofficial start of summer. I, too, am looking forward to the ever-rarer days when we can give our office a day off at the same time. However, over the years, Memorial Day has evolved in the public’s mind from a day of remembrance for those who fell in active duty to our country to a government-accepted “free” day off, a day of hot dogs and swimming and camping trips.
Though military life wasn’t a defining factor of my childhood, I was born on the naval base in Groton, Connecticut while my father was a submariner there. My grandfather was in the National Guard, my brother was in the Coast Guard. Though my grandfather had to stay on the homefront because he was the family’s principal breadwinner in lieu of his disabled father, his brothers served in WWII. My uncle was in the Korean War. Fortunately, many of my loved ones are still with us, but I know that there are many who volunteered to serve our country, or were called to duty to defend us when we needed them, who aren’t with us any longer. Nearly any cemetery, from small family plots to Arlington National, has become the final resting place of a serviceman, whether they were killed during active duty or passed after subjecting themselves to unimaginable dangers protecting us from harm.
It is for these people that we observe Memorial Day.
It is no small thing to agree to serve your country in the military. Military life demands being away from friends and loved ones, learning the unnatural act of killing another human if need be, desensitizing yourself to the horrors of seeing comrades killed or injured (a skill that is nearly impossible for most to learn fully), and rigorous adherence to a chain of command and a regimented existence. Surely no one but those who have served, whether actively in a combat zone or with the constant specter of being sent to active battle hanging over their head, could truly know what the experience is like.
There are many days out of the year that commemorate other people and activities, from the awesome to the frivolous, but I hope that you will take time this weekend to think about the sacrifices of those who put their personal freedom aside to defend the freedoms of all Americans. Even if you are a conscientious or compulsory objector, the sacrifices of these individuals is no doubt something worth honoring and remembering. Somehow, that makes the less solemn activities we’ll enjoy this weekend even more meaningful.